Despite facing a 3-0 deficit from the first leg, Atletico Madrid were never going to go quietly in their Champions League semi-final. In the last European game and final Madrid derby at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon stadium, the hosts stunned Real Madrid by going 2-0 up within 16 minutes.
Real Madrid gradually found their feet, however, and then killed the tie thanks to some beautiful skill from Karim Benzema. The Frenchman beat three Atletico defenders to set up Toni Kroos, and although the German’s shot was brilliantly saved by Jan Oblak, Isco was on hand to slot home from the rebound.
Atletico huffed and puffed after that, and had their chances, but ultimately it will be Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Here are seven deadly stats from Wednesday’s second leg…
SAUL, CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SPECIALIST
Saul was the man who killed Leicester City’s hopes of a comeback in the quarter-finals, and on Wednesday he gave Atletico Madrid hope of pulling off a miraculous comeback of their own.
The midfielder seems to bring his best in the Champions League, especially in the knockout stages.
Four of his seven Champions League goals have come in the knockout stages, and he’s now scored against both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in Champions League semi-finals.
GRIEZMANN THE BEST OF THE REST?
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi occupy a planet of their own, but the title for best player among mere mortals has been up for grabs for quite a while. From Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Frank Ribery a few years ago to Luis Suarez and Neymar recently, many have made their cases.
But is it now Antoine Griezmann’s spot to lose?
He’s usually thought of as the best player in La Liga not playing at Real Madrid or Barcelona, and his goal on Wednesday bolstered his claim that in the Champions League, he deserves even more praise.
Antoine Griezmann has now scored 15 Champions League goals since the star of last season, more than:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
Luis Suarez (11)
Karim Benzema (9) pic.twitter.com/fXByZXHblP
REAL MADRID TURN UP…
After looking shell-shocked by Atletico Madrid’s strong start to the second leg, Real Madrid finally got going, settling into a rhythm that allowed them to take control of the game.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric began bossing the game in midfield, while Isco was proving to be a menace whenever he got onto the ball, and Atletico Madrid were soon on the back foot again.
Going 2-0 down within 16 minutes could have sent Real Madrid into a panic. Instead, they rose to the challenge.
Since scoring the second goal Atletico Madrid have spent 62.08% of the time in their own half.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
Real Madrid wrestling back control. pic.twitter.com/Jh322vFSdB
…AND SCORE, LIKE THEY ALWAYS DO
The last time Real Madrid failed to score was in last season’s Champions League semi-final, when Manchester City held them to a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
So even with a 2-0 lead, Atletico Madrid probably knew that the 3-0 win they needed on the night (just to take the game into extra time) wasn’t going to happen .
Isco’s goal towards the end of the first half meant that Atletico needed another three to progress, thus effectively killing the tie.
Real Madrid’s scoring streak will now face the ultimate test: Juventus’ defence.
61 - Real Madrid have equalled Bayern as the team from the top 5 league with the longest scoring run in all competitions. Historic.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) May 10, 2017
ISCO ENDING THE SEASON IN TOP FORM
Isco only gets into the Real Madrid starting XI when there are injuries to first-choice players, but the Spaniard excels whenever he’s given the chance.
He was one of the standout performers against Bayern Munich in the previous round, and he looked like Real Madrid’s biggest threat again on Wednesday, even before his goal.
The 25-year-old is capable of sublime skill, always knows how to find a pass, and pops up with vital goals.
Yet, the question remains: if Gareth Bale is fit by June 3 – he’ll have the added incentive of playing in a Champions League final in his hometown of Cardiff – will Isco be relegated to the bench again?
Isco has now scored or assisted 12 goals in his last 14 starts for Real Madrid.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
Always taking his chance. 👏 pic.twitter.com/mPR6oHGIUz
KARIM BENZEMA’S SILKY SKILL
The skill Karim Benzema produced to leave three Atletico Madrid defenders trailing in his wake was absolutely sublime.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to do justice to such moments with mere numbers. Here, however, the numbers add to the story.
Benzema had to beat three players. He beat one, then another – with a third being taken out of the equation for good measure. And then, Madrid scored.
Karim Benzema completed two take-ons before squaring the ball in the build up to Isco's goal.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
42': Savic ✅
42': Giménez ✅
Great feet. pic.twitter.com/sgRxgm0zD1
MODRIC AND ISCO WERE UNTOUCHABLE
Real Madrid having more possession and more passes was expected. That is their style, and Atletico Madrid’s style is to let the opposition have the ball.
Real Madrid having not one but two players who completed more take-ons than the entire Atletico team? That’s special.
Atletico are known for having a hard-nosed, no-nonsense defence, but Isco and Luka Modric made them look silly at times. The Real Madrid duo were practically untouchable.
Karim Benzema’s brilliance booked Real Madrid a place back in the UEFA Champions League final after the holders survived an early scare to see off city rivals Atletico 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon.
Early goals from Saul and Antoine Griezmann gave Diego Simeone’s men realistic hope of hauling back a 3-0 first-leg deficit before a goal from Isco late in the first half effectively ended the contest.
And it was Frenchman Benzema who shone brightest as Real ultimately cruised to a 4-2 aggregate win, setting up Isco’s effort and having a major impact on a much more consistent second-half showing from his side.
Here we take an in-depth look at two of the key protagonists.
Goals – 0
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 19
Key passes – 1
Dribbles – 0
Dispossessed – 1
Aerials won – 1
Goals – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 56
Key passes – 2
Dribbles – 7
Dispossessed – 3
Aerials won – 1
Starting Torres raised a few eyebrows but to begin it looked like a brilliant decision from Diego Simeone.
The striker is much better pressing and defending from the front than Kevin Gameiro and in the opening stages, Real were penned back as a result of Atleti’s high press.
He was an outlet for Antoine Griezmann when the broke forward, too, and then of course, there was the penalty.
The 33-year-old used all of his experience to get his back to Raphael Varane, swivel to find a yard before the inevitable challenge came in.
But much like the hosts after Isco’s soul-sucking goal before half-time he faded into irrelevance.
The Frenchman has his doubters – plenty of them – but then he has the ability to produce performances like he did tonight.
It wasn’t just his outrageous close control tight to the touchline in the build-up to Isco’s goal that impressed tonight, although it was sublime, it was overall contribution.
The confidence has been sapped from his this season but it seeped back in against Atletico and he looked like a man on a mission.
It’s a vicious cycle with the Real striker. Just when he seems to be at his nadir, he illustrates his quality and his effectiveness as one of the most complete forwards on the planet, then disappears for a few games before the process repeats.
Tonight, though, he was sharp, skillful and his overall effort immense.
15th min: Yannick Carrasco slipped the ball down the inside right and Torres got the ball out of his feet and as he shaped up to shoot is rashly brought down by Raphael Varane with the referee pointing to the spot. Antoine Griezmann stepped and despite a poor penalty puts it away as Atletico go two up on the night.
45th min: Tempers flared between Torres and Cristiano Ronaldo just minutes after Isco sucked the life out of the Vicente Calderon with his goal. Torres is enraged but the advantageous scoreline meant Ronaldo simply smiled and shrugged.
42nd min: Bamboozling Benzema. Surrounded by Stefan Savic, Diego Godin and Jose Giminez he slalomed out of an impossibly tight corner, slipped the ball along the byline and then composed himself to pull the back for the charging Toni Kroos who saw his low shot blocked by Jan Oblak with Isco pouncing to finish on the rebound.
73rd min: An in two moments, why Benzema is so frustrating. Marcelo from deep, whips in a beauty of a cross to the far post and Benzema finds a yard but his diving header whips the side netting when it should have been nestled in the back of the goal.
Bar winning the penalty a quiet night for the Spaniard. Lacked any real thrust and just couldn’t get into the game.
He was taken off in the 56th minute which just goes to show what Diego Simeone thought of his performance.
His mesmerising feet in the build-up to Isco’s goal will go down in Champions League history. Genuinely, it was absurd that he managed to get out of such a tight spot.
It doesn’t alter the fact the Frenchman is having a poor season but it’s on night’s like this where you can really come to appreciate what he can offer.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com
“I asked Dani Alves to help us, above all us older members of the team, to achieve the dream we are still chasing and help us push the bar a little higher.” Those were the words of Gigi Buffon back in August, the Juventus skipper – despite having won almost everything there is to win – recognising that the Brazilian could still teach him a thing or too about what it takes to achieve Champions League glory.
The veteran goalkeeper would add that, thanks to his time at Barcelona, Alves “is accustomed to certain targets and victories,” going on to say that “his experience can really help us.” Now when Buffon speaks like that about a player, perhaps supporters would do well to listen. But, as the 2016/17 campaign got underway, it seemed as though Juve’s excellent track record with ageing free agent signings had finally run out.
Unlike Andrea Pirlo, Fernando Llorente and even Sami Khedira, Alves did not immediately impress. His first few games in the famous black and white stripes were largely abysmal, lacking the energy and awareness that were always hallmarks of his game as the Turin giants lost clashes with AC Milan and Genoa.
He would then spend a couple of months sidelined with a fractured bone in his leg, and it seems the time away from the pitch did him the power of good. Perhaps able to take a step back and see where he could help the team enabled the 34-year-old to maximise his impact when he returned.
Without him, Max Allegri had shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation, but it was when he became part of that new system that it truly began to hum. Comfortable wins were racked up at home and in Europe, with Alves buzzing around the pitch and constantly being involved in Juve’s most promising attacking moves.
There had been some glimpses of what he could do, and it was no surprise that they largely came in the Champions League. Now, having already helped the Old Lady defeat his beloved Barca – a victory Alves admitted “felt a bit strange” – he almost single handedly demolished semi-final opponents AS Monaco.
Dani Alves in the Champions League this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 10, 2017
30 chances created
22 successful crosses
21 tackles won
Master of all. pic.twitter.com/5kauWQvk0n
The first leg saw him lay on two goals for Gonzalo Higuain, the first (above) as part of a beautiful team move that saw the Bianconeri sweep forward with the kind of devastating counterattack that has been a hallmark of the Ligue 1 side’s own play all season.
He then swung in a perfect cross for the Argentinian’s second goal, repeating the feat in the return leg to set up Mario Mandžukić for the opener at Juventus Stadium. Not content with merely providing for others, Alves would deliver the coup de grâce after Paulo Dybala forced a corner just before half time.
Goalkeeper Danijel Subašić punched clear following the set piece, the ball looping up in the air as Juve’s No.23 stood waiting outside the box. As it dropped to him, Alves unleashed an unstoppable volley, the shot thumping into the bottom corner and guaranteeing that the Brazilian defender would be playing in the twelfth European final of his career.
He did more than just score of course, ensuring Monaco found little joy down the Juventus right as he protected Andrea Barzagli superbly against the pace of Kylian Mbappé. Winning six tackles, making one interception and completing 41 of the 45 passes he attempted (91.1%), it was yet another complete performance, and one the man himself was more than happy with.
“This was an opportunity that life gave me, to my teammates and to this squad,” Alves told Mediaset Premium shortly after the final whistle. “It’s a good moment for us, we worked so hard to get here, but we haven’t achieved anything yet. If we can win the Final, then we’ll all be happy.”
That last part became something of a mantra for the whole group on Wednesday night, Buffon and Allegri both telling reporters that simply reaching the final is “not enough anymore.” It never has been for the Brazilian, who has won the Champions League three times and never finished as a runner up.
Now, with the chance to help the Old Lady end a 21-year wait to lift European football’s greatest prize and to make good on Buffon’s pre-season request, just one more game stands between Dani Alves and a place forever in the long and storied history of Juventus.